Rent Mother Nature The good news is that we have made, and are making, really nice, pure maple syrup again this year. The unfortunate part of this year is that we started in January and that this is probably not an aberration—it may be the new normal. Sugar making for us over the last century started in March. The disturbing reality of climate change could threaten the entire industry which depends on maple trees having a prolonged winter-period of dormancy for their health and good sap production. The seasons seem to have changed.
In mid-March we had January weather (a wind-chilling minus 15 degrees F), whereas in January we were well above freezing most of the time. While this freezing effectively shuts down operations, it did give us a chance to survey the sugarbush to make sure all sap lines and tubing were intact and had not suffered damage from downed limbs. It was not always that way when we used sap buckets. We might have lost a bucket or two, not a big deal when you have thousands of them gathering sap, but very important where a mainline handles sap from multiple trees.
A trip through history shows the considerable changes that have taken place in the maple industry. Old sap spiles (also called spouts) were hand made of wood. The soft interior was removed and one end was tapered and inserted with a hammer (hence called tapping) into a hole drilled into the tree. An open container was placed at the foot of the tree to collect the drippings (and anything else that might fall in). This was a slow operation that called for a lot of labor and was not good for the tree. Wooden spiles gave way to pre-fabricated metal ones, which became the standard with a 7/16th hole drilled into the tree. They allowed metal sap buckets to be suspended and covered (the high-tech system of the day, which we used for generations, and still do with a few buckets for nostalgic reasons, though we now drill holes only 3/16th in diameter which is far healthier for the tree and decreases the sap loss).
Boiling down the sap has also been modernized. No longer is it done in open kettles. However, we still use wood as fuel, and a closed system to filter and bottle syrup without adding anything to it in the process.